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December 14, 2018

France: Cognac

Filed under: Europe, France, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , , — anotherheader @ 12:31 am

The attendant in the Martell tasting rooms waits for the next round of customers

A mention of Cognac to most first brings to mind a refined brandy. But the name Cognac refers to more: Cognac can mean the brandy, the region, or the commune that is the center of production of the famous eau de vie.

Situated on the banks of the River Charente amid vine-covered countryside the city of Cognac is attractive. Many half-timbered timbered 15th- to 17th-century houses line the narrow streets of the old portion of the town. But France has many other communes that are similarly pleasing. Appealing as it is, Cognac struggles to stand out. In the end it’s the brandy and not the town that is the biggest attraction.


Martell’s historic house and early administrative center.

Visitors can tour and taste brandy at many of Cognac’s distilleries. There are so many options that it makes it hard to choose, particularly if you don’t have an established Cognac brand preference. We asked the desk at our hotel for a suggestion and they recommended that we visit Martell. The desk was kind enough to make arrangements for us.

The visitor center at the Martell is at the site of the former distillery. Production stills have now moved to the far side of the river. Martell’s town-side complex is now used for blending, some barrel storage, and for tasting and tours. Visitors wanting to see a modern brandy distillery in operation will have to look elsewhere. A visit to Martell is more the history of Cognac production than a visit to a working distillery. That said it is interesting.

Our tasting samples await.

Martell’s Cognac is made by blending many different lots to achieve the desired characteristics.

At the end of the Martell tour there is a tasting of two Cognacs. A gentleman in the tasting room organizes and runs all of the end-of-tour degustations. As part of the process, he demonstrates the correct way to taste the Cognac, by taking a swig in his mouth and letting it linger before swallowing. This is not a winery; there’s no spitting after a taste, even by the person doing the demonstrations. With parts of two glasses of cognac after each of the day’s seven tours, it seems that the tasting assistant inevitably consumes a lot of alcohol each day. We were surprised that he could drive home in the evening.

In any event, the tour and the tasting are interesting and the Cognac is good. For sure it put Cognac, especially Martell Cognac, in a good light.

Tasting is an important part of Cognac production.

Inside the old facility


We visited Cognac France in later October 2017 and stayed for two nights. Though the tasting room attendant drove home, we felt it was best to spend the night after our Cognac tasting.

The Cognac bottles for the tastings rise up from the center of the table James Bond-style.

Tanks are essentially for blending the lots together.

Bottles of the individual lots of brandy used to make up the final blends.

Creating a photographic memory of the tasting.

Pictures show how it was in the early days.

Not so old cave art on the streets of Cognac

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